Evidence of a Calabrian mafia hit on Canberra’s top cop could have helped David Harold Eastman beat the murder charge against him in 1995, a report has found.
But the head of the Eastman inquiry found the hypothesis had major flaws, including the lack of hard evidence linking 'Ndrangheta members to the homocide.
Alleged mafia involvement in the killing of assistant police commissioner Colin Winchester was probed during the inquiry, but much of the evidence was taken in closed hearings and ordered to be kept secret.
Inquiry boss acting Justice Brian Martin admitted in his findings that he had heard “material pointing to an alternative hypothesis consistent with innocence, the strength of which is unknown”.
The judge said the fresh evidence added a “new dimension” to the Mafia’s involvement, and lifted “suspicion to the level of a reasonable hypothesis consistent with the [Eastman’s] innocence”.
“If this evidence had been available at the time of the trial … it would have been of significant assistance to the defence in endeavouring to advance the alternative hypothesis concerning the identity of the offender,” Justice Martin wrote.
But Justice Martin emphasised that the likelihood of a Mafia hit on Mr Winchester meant the evidence had to be taken at face value.
“Most of that ‘evidence’ is in a hearsay form and the credibility of the primary witness (a police informant who conceded during the coronial inquest that he would commit perjury) is decidedly suspect,” Justice Martin wrote.
Justice Martin seemed to give away his true thoughts when he wrote in his recommendations that he had been “fairly certain that [Eastman] is guilty of the murder of the deceased”.
For years, an alternative hypothesis for the homicide involved mafia figures taking revenge for Mr Winchester's role in double-crossing members of the 'Ndrangheta over the development of a cannabis crop at Bungendore.
Mr Winchester had been involved in an intelligence operation in which he posed as a corrupt cop.
The trial of those involved in that drug crop had been only a month away at the time of his death.
But defence lawyers for the mafia members gave evidence at a coronial inquest that they had intended to call Mr Winchester during the trial as part of their defence of police authorisation.
In his report, Justice Martin said the hypothesis – in the absence of the fresh material heard during the inquiry – suffered from major defects, including the lack of hard evidence linking members of the mafia group to the murder.